SAFE Banking Act vs. SAFER Banking Act – What’s the Difference for the Marijuana Industry?

October 5, 2023 · Cannabis.net

bipartisan marijuana banking measure has received the Senate Banking Committee’s unanimous support, marking a historic development in the ongoing struggle to address the intricate financial issues affecting the cannabis industry according to Reuters.This landmark decision has significant ramifications for a sector that has struggled for years with regulations that have largely compelled legitimate cannabis businesses to function primarily in cash. The Secure and Fair Enforcement Regulation (SAFER) Banking Act, supported by Senators Jeff Merkley (D-OR) and Steve Daines (R-MT), is the fundamental component of this legislation. After a week of intense deliberations and amendments meant to increase its appeal to MPs from both political spectrums, the plan won committee approval in a 14-9 vote after a week of intense deliberations and amendments. This achievement goes beyond merely addressing the practical challenges encountered by legal cannabis enterprises; it also underscores the growing bipartisan consensus on the necessity of cannabis banking reform and signals a noteworthy shift in federal policy toward the cannabis industry—an issue that has long been a contentious point of debate.

The Bipartisan Push for Cannabis Banking Reform

The bipartisan support that has rallied around the Secure and Fair Enforcement Regulation (SAFER) Banking Act is one of the most remarkable components of the recent Senate Banking Committee approval. This initiative, sponsored by Senators Jeff Merkley (D-OR) and Steve Daines (R-MT), has managed to cross the political divide in a highly polarized environment, symbolizing cooperation in a terrain where consensus is frequently elusive.

The recognition that the current financial environment for legal cannabis firms is unsustainable is at the heart of this bipartisan push. The current federal attitude on cannabis, classified as a Schedule I restricted narcotic, has left state-legal cannabis firms facing many financial difficulties. These companies have been compelled to operate in a cash-heavy atmosphere, putting them at risk of theft, tax evasion, and organized crime. Because of this, lawmakers on both sides of the aisle have recognized that tackling these issues requires a collaborative effort. Senator Steve Daines (R-MT), the senior Republican proponent of the SAFER Financial Act, has stated that while he opposes marijuana legalization, ensuring that legal firms have access to the financial system is critical to reducing these risks. This sentiment underscores the overarching theme of public safety and sound economic practices, transcending party lines.

Furthermore, Committee Chairman Sherrod Brown (D-OH) highlighted the imperative nature of the bipartisan legislation by emphasizing its role in safeguarding legal cannabis businesses, protecting their employees, and fostering community well-being. This sentiment echoes across party lines as the legislation, despite the broader marijuana policy debate, addresses a pressing issue that affects not only cannabis entrepreneurs but also the financial institutions that interact with them. This bipartisan push for cannabis banking reform signifies a shift in the political discourse surrounding cannabis issues. This suggests that pragmatic solutions can be reached when focused on practicality and safety rather than the broader ideological debates related to legalization. As the SAFER Banking Act progresses through the legislative process, it is a testament to the potential for unity and progress even in the most contentious policy arenas.

Amendments and Controversies Surrounding Cannabis Banking Reform

The recent approval of the Secure and Fair Enforcement Regulation (SAFER) Banking Act by the Senate Banking Committee was not without its share of amendments and controversies, shedding light on the complexities surrounding cannabis policy reform.

Amendments Rejected:

Sunset Clause: Senator Raphael Warnock (D-GA) proposed a sunset clause that would have terminated the SAFER Banking Act after five years unless the Department of Treasury, in consultation with other agencies, certified a reduction in the racial wealth gap and other negative economic impacts of the War on Drugs. This amendment was rejected, underlining the difficulty of reaching a consensus on the broader societal implications of cannabis policy reform.

Regulatory Pressure: Senator Mike Crapo (R-ID) suggested an amendment to replace Section 10 with language stipulating that federal regulators cannot pressure financial entities to refuse services to lawful entities unless they engage in “unsafe and unsound practices.” While the intention was to clarify and safeguard financial institutions, it was not adopted, emphasising the intricate balance between regulatory control and the cannabis industry’s needs.

Amendments Introduced and Withdrawn:

Senator Mike Rounds (R-SD) put forth an amendment that would have sunset the bill in case of a federal rescheduling of marijuana. While this amendment was ultimately withdrawn, it reflects the uncertainty surrounding the future of federal cannabis policy and its potential impacts on banking reform.

Amendments Ruled Not Germane:

Senator Bill Hagerty (R-TN) attempted to prevent the “laundering of fentanyl and methamphetamine proceeds via marijuana sales.” However, this amendment was ruled not germane to the committee’s jurisdiction, highlighting the need for amendments to align with the specific focus of the legislation.

Amendments Ruled Out of Order:

A Government Accountability Office (GAO) investigation into the “racial wealth gap and the percentage of minority-owned cannabis-related businesses before and after the passage of the SAFER Banking Act” was to be conducted within two years of the SAFER Banking Act’s passage, according to an amendment proposed by Senator Raphael Warnock (D-GA). The fact that this amendment was ruled out of order for breaking committee rules emphasizes how crucial procedural observance is to the legislative process.

These amendments and the debates surrounding them reveal the multifaceted nature of cannabis policy reform. The push for cannabis banking reform is not solely centred on the financial aspect but also intertwines with broader social and regulatory concerns. While rejecting some amendments signifies the committee’s focus on the core issues of banking access and financial security for the cannabis industry, it also highlights the ongoing debate regarding the wider implications of cannabis legalization and reform. As the SAFER Banking Act progresses, these controversies underscore the complexities and nuances inherent in crafting effective cannabis policy at the federal level.

Bottom Line

The unanimous approval of the SAFER Banking Act by the Senate Banking Committee is a pivotal moment in the journey toward cannabis banking reform. The bipartisan support underscores the recognition of the urgent need to provide legal cannabis businesses with access to the financial system, enhancing their safety, security, and economic stability. While amendments and controversies highlight the complexity of cannabis policy reform, this development signals a noteworthy shift in federal policy toward the cannabis industry, emphasizing practical solutions and unity in an otherwise contentious arena. As the SAFER Banking Act progresses, it stands as a testament to the potential for progress when the focus is on practicality, public safety, and bipartisan cooperation. (Full Story)

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